I wish I had a Magic Wand!

Howard and Jamieson in their “Researched Writing” detail the critique that the research paper gets and also share the “best practices in teaching student research” (235). There is certainly no arguing the fact that teaching students research skills is an important job of a teacher but the question is how much can one teacher teach in a semester? There certainly are expectations of a teacher from her/his students when they enter the class. Being a teacher of English 120, what do I expect from my students? How much they know already and from where do I start? What should I be particularly emphasizing when teaching research? There is no way to determine this until my students have turned in their first project. The results that I find are somewhat close to what Citation Project study of FYW found as stated in Howard and Jamieson. Based on the issues, problems and critiques of the research paper, the advice that they give to the teachers is invaluable:

  • Devise alternatives to the research paper
  • Focus on engagement rather than mechanics
  • Collaborate with librarians
  • Teach the rhetoric of finding and evaluating sources
  • Teach engaged and critical reading
  • Teach summary and paraphrase
  • Explore multimedia genre

(236-242)

But the question remains: How much do I have to accomplish?

I believe all these pieces of advice should be imbedded in the curriculum from secondary schooling onwards, picking and choosing step by step what is appropriate for the age group under consideration. For instance, teaching “rhetoric of finding and evaluating sources” might be too ambitious at the secondary school but “summary and paraphrase” seem appropriate. When the students enter high school, having learnt “summary and paraphrase” already, can be engaged in “critical reading” and once these students enter the college, they may further be introduced to more complex skills like finding and evaluating sources rhetorically.

I know this sounds utopian but this is necessary because introducing students to all this all at once is overwhelming for them and also too much for an instructor. Another challenge that I have faced as an English 120 instructor is that some of the students do seems to have already learnt what I just proposed but greater is the number of those who only know a five paragraph themed essay with no concept of research at all. This diverse group of students itself is a challenge. Who do I cater to? Look at those who know more and start from there onwards or consider those who still need to be taught paraphrase? The authors of the essay suggest that the teacher should focus on engagement rather than mechanics. So who will teach the mechanics? And do I simply ignore mechanics while grading? So practically, as a teacher, like any other teacher, I would assume other responsibilities that the authors do not even talk about.

Learning research skills is not a matter of a semester. It is a continuous process that student should be going through in all their learning years. FYW instructors cannot be expected of doing all on their own. Either the entire curriculum from grade 8 onwards be revolutionized or the risk be taken with students passing FYW courses without actually having learnt all the aspects of research.

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One thought on “I wish I had a Magic Wand!

  1. I agree, it is difficult to try and teach every aspect of research in one semester. What I do in my class, is I ask them at the beginning of the semester and the end, what they want to specifically learn. And if they need individual help, they are more than welcome to visit with me individually outside of the classroom. The student than comes into our meeting with questions and concerns and we talk through ways to improve their issue. For example, one student was having trouble with finding a research topic, so we sat down and brainstormed things she was interested in. From there, she was having trouble with citations and said she had not learned how to do them properly, so I walked her through, step-by-step how to apply in-text citation. We cannot teach everyone everything about research but I do agree with the list you had mentioned, utilizing outside sources does seem to be beneficial, especially the library and writing centers. I know if I had tried to teach every single thing about research myself to every student, my brain would combust because of all the stress.

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